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Arkea Ultim Challenge - Brest: The Maxi Edmond de Rothschild set to cast off from the Azores

by Gitana Team 23 Feb 14:19 PST 24 February 2024
Arkea Ultim Challenge - Brest © Y.Riou / polaRYSE / GITANA S.A

This Friday, Charles Caudrelier and the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild are still on a stopover in the Azores but they should finally be able to hit the racetrack again tomorrow. Indeed, the skipper of Gitana Team might well be able to leave the port of Horta, where he moored the five-arrow trimaran on Wednesday morning to avoid the bad weather plaguing the approach to the French and Breton coast.

Focus on Gitana's guardian angels

Back on 7 January 2024, Charles Caudrelier put all his energy into realising his dream and that of his team: to be first across the finish line of the Arkea Ultim Challenge - Brest. Though he is physically alone helming and manoeuvring what is an enormous boat; though he is mentally alone facing his doubts, his fears and his fatigue, he knows that back on land, a whole army of lucky stars are watching over him. In the Gitana Team's control tower, twenty or so guardian angels are supporting him, working out his trajectory and keeping an eye on the state of health of the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild. Since the start, they too have had precious little sleep...

Routers: three sailors as personal bodyguards

In the Arkea Ultim Challenge, Charles Caudrelier has surrounded himself with a routing cell comprising a trio of sailor-experts: Erwan Israël, Benjamin Schwartz and Julien Villion. Though the three men know each other well, they had never worked together on an exercise quite like this. Shut away and entirely self-sufficient since early January in a pretty house in Larmor-Plage, Brittany, they've been taking it in turns 24/7 in front of the computer screens in a bid to devise the optimal course to the finish line for the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild, receive the boat's positions every 30 seconds and not budge from the messaging service. "On this round the world, preserving the machine and never being in overdrive was the priority. It's a complicated job being reasonable!" says Julien Villion. This mission is made all the more complicated because Charles never thinks twice about pushing his machine hard. "He's impressed us a number of times, reveal Benjamin Schwartz. "Like the time he was in the squall with 38 knots of breeze at the end of the South Atlantic, under full main and J0. I was ten times more stressed behind my computer screen than he was on his boat! We often had to temper his ardour," continues Benjamin.

"He's able to dig incredibly deep," confirms Erwan Israël, Charles' appointed router for the past three years. "There is a lot of the human aspect in routing, stresses Julien. We are not machines digesting grib files. We are the ones who have the most contact with him. We have to know how to decipher what state he's in and his moods and adapt ourselves accordingly."

The doctors of the tech team

On shore, at the same time as designing the new Ultim (scheduled launch in 2025), the shore team and the design office are also keeping an eye open for problems.

All the boat's telemetry - the information from the hundreds of sensors kitting out the five-arrow trimaran -, is relayed back to shore on the computer screens and mobile phones of the specialists in each sector. In addition to the classic data (wind, course, etc.), the heeling angle, the pitch, the distortion of the platform, the pressure on the pilot, the state of the hydraulics, the appendages, the rig, the structure, the energy consumption... everything is measured.

"We're hit with 650 pieces of data every 30 seconds," explains Nicolas Le Griguer, electronics engineer within Gitana Team, responsible for this complex case. "All this data is analysed by coded programmes, which compare the values with predefined alert thresholds. If the thresholds are exceeded, alarms sound..." day and night. "When we were jostling for first place with SVR, Nicolas continues, the alarms were going off around fifty times a day."

When an alarm goes off, a whole chain of expertise flies into action, studying the emergencies and coming up with solutions. "We study the boat's 'vital statistics', like a doctor at their patient's bedside. We do that crouching in the shadows, ready to spring into action if there's an issue. It is our race within a race. We're constantly on the look-out," confirms Pierre Tissier, Gitana Team's technical director for the past ten years.

This data, which is a very precious asset for Sébastien Sainson, director of the Design Office, makes it possible to warn the skipper in the event of a flaw or too high a load on a structural element of the boat.

Though not all the technical glitches have been unveiled as yet, it is clear that Charles' journey has not been a bed of roses. "He knew there would be something to hassle him every day and that's how things have played out. We have the list and it's crazy! It really is one issue a day, minor and major alike. He has incredible tenacity within this context. He's pulled out all the stops to effect repairs each time," enthuses Pierre Tissier.

Coming onto the scene in 2007, David Boileau, the boat captain, is one of the most long-standing members of the Gitana racing stable. Since 7 January, his life has been "in the starting blocks 24/7, sleeping with his telephone under his pillow." Like Pierre Tissier and his alter ego Sébastien Sainson, he's seen the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild spring into life and was part of all the preliminary stages which led to the very first boat design capable of flying in the open ocean: the MOD70, transformed 10 years ago into a laboratory vessel, then the launch of 'G17' and the years of trial and error and tweaking.

"We were all worried about our ability to complete a single-handed round the world on a flying boat," admits David. "What Charles is in the process of doing right now, with all his energy and his commitment, is very rewarding. We are also humble enough to say to ourselves that luck has been on our side so far in overcoming the challenges along the way. However, we'll only be relieved once the finish line is crossed."

If victory lies at the end of the road, it will be as a result of an epic journey: 10 years of effort to realise an idea, a conviction.

The boss

This long-term collective work is a great source of pride for Cyril Dardashti, director of the racing stable for the past 16 years and someone who has been around since the very start of the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild project. "Taking this flying boat, created 10 years ago, all the way in this race of pioneers would be incredibly satisfying for us all. We've seen so many doors slammed shut on us..." In the meantime, stress is the best travelling companion for the boss, whose role is to orchestrate the scores for a team of around twenty people, and to synthesize such things as all the information buzzing around the multiple discussion groups - routing, Gitana tech, crisis, alarm, performance alarm, shore to shore -. "This race is a constant worry, he says. We know how quickly things can change. It becomes an obsession. The solo sailor on a multihull sailing around the world is a very special kind of exercise." And yet he must not let any of his anxieties show. His responsibility is to preserve his group and his skipper, with whom he maintains a special relationship. "When it's really tough, when he's having a hard time of it, I try to find the right words, which will enable him to regain his balance, support him and tell him that he is not all alone."

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